Defining success and rethinking the value of a corporate job.

Over time, I gained a different perspective on life, particularly about work. My re-evaluated priorities and redefined successes caused me to rethink the value of a corporate job. For whatever reason, I certainly have some regrets.

My parents are immigrants. They escaped their war-torn homeland for an opportunity to raise a family and live the American dream. While there were many struggles growing up, my parents raised three kids who achieved varying degrees of success in the corporate world. For the most part, we navigated successful careers on our own. My parents didn’t work in corporate. They had no advice to give other than to do well in school so we could get a high-paying job.

In the Asian culture, a high-paying job implies becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Besides family, Asians value those who can save lives and hold others accountable for their wrong-doings. But I quickly learned elsewhere that a high-paying job meant a corporate job. It was respected work and one that could bring wealth, power, and prestige. And thus began my goal of climbing the corporate ladder.

In the Asian culture, success meant becoming a doctor or a lawyer, not having a corporate job.
Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

We value corporate jobs as a measurement of success.

I can’t blame my parents for becoming a lawyer. I had wanted to be a judge since the 4th grade when I presided over the class “Chicken Little” mock trial. For the next 20-plus years that was my chosen career path. After law school, I practiced for the next 6 years, climbing my way up to junior partner. I was good at my job. A natural in the courtroom. I billed the most hours as an associate. Clients loved me. I made a lot of money as a 20-something-year-old. But in all that time, while I was a success in my parents’ eyes, I never felt successful.

Looking back, I admit I had subconsciously attached success to being a corporate executive. It didn’t matter that many of my clients were executives who relied on me for advice. In my eyes, they held the power, the prestige, and the admiration of holding an elusive C-suite title at a company. All the things I had heard and learned were trademarks of success.

Financial wealth is the highest benchmark for career achievement.

For centuries, history touted ingenuity and innovation as the hallmarks of achievements. These inventors didn’t profit from their inventions though they were groundbreaking, even by today’s standards. Most notable is Nikola Tesla, who died in debt despite having invented, among other things, Tesla Coils, which allowed the world to send radio signals.

But history is also replete with examples of innovations and investments creating mega corporations amassing large sums of wealth. By redesigning the process for refining oil, Standard Oil Company made Vanderbilt one of the richest men of his time. The Vanderbilt name is still synonymous with wealth today. The same can be said of the Rockefellers, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie. Captains of their industries and robber barons of the Gilded Age. These men are equals to our century’s Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos.

Nikola Tesla was a renown inventor, who died in debt.
Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.”

-Nikola Tesla

Ironically, each of these men, many of whom did not come from wealth, is famously known for their wealth even though each created something unique. No one ever mentions Nikola Tesla. That is until Elon Musk named his car after Tesla. Which brings me to my point. Financial wealth is the highest benchmark for career achievement. You’re more likely to be known for being rich than creating something new.

Corporate jobs are valued because they are the easiest path to financial wealth.

There are limited options to achieve financial wealth. You can win the lottery and have instant financial freedom. Or, you can save and invest your way to financial stability. While we all dream of winning the lottery, our financial happiness is dependent on our job. One that hopefully allows us to earn more than we need to care for ourselves and our family.

In that perspective, the value of a corporate job reigns supreme. It is arguably the easiest path to earning more money. Blue-collar jobs require brute manual labor that many of us aren’t able to or aren’t willing to do. Higher professions like doctors and lawyers need years of education with mounting school debt where wealth comes after more years of stressful, endless hours of work. But corporate jobs provide pathways for all skill levels, from entry to executive, and, in theory, award those who work hard in title and pay.

With wealth comes power and prestige.

While wealth affords us the ability to accumulate things, power allows us to influence others. In many ways, wealth and power are often inseparable. After all, “money talks.” Like the robber barons of the Gilded Age and the Bill Gates of our era, these men were respected and held in high esteem. C. Wright Mills once said, “Prestige is the shadow of money and power.” It’s true. We hold people with money and power in a higher societal class than the rest.

If you think about it, climbing the corporate ladder is somewhat of a narcissistic behavior. We want to feel empowered to make our own decisions and maintain control of not only our destiny but the destiny of others. We demand fair compensation for making those decisions, even when they’re not good. And we expect recognition and respect from others for achieving that status. In other words, we strive to be a top executive for the power, money, and prestige. We value the pathway that corporate jobs provide us because the end goal is always about us.

But have we misplaced the value of a corporate job?

There are many examples of people who climbed the corporate ladder and obtained wealth, power, and prestige. But for each of those examples, there are many more where it doesn’t happen. A corporate job isn’t a guaranteed pathway to that lifestyle.

Join me next time when we continue to dive deeper into the realities of climbing the corporate ladder in Untold Secrets: Understanding the Reality of Corporate Jobs.

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